I used to think that education was the backbone of development. I was wrong. It’s economic development.
Sure, education is a critical component to break the cycle of extreme poverty, but the reality in the communities where 410 Bridge works is that the primary barriers to a quality education can be eliminated by lifting household incomes. A family’s inability to afford school fees or a uniform are often the two primary reasons a child doesn’t attend school.
Besides, kids are dependent. Even if we’re successful in lifting the quality of education in a school, those initiatives cannot be sustained without adequate resources available within the community. That’s one of the reasons why economic development trumps education as the backbone.
But here’s the thing… Most folks, when they think about improving the economic situation, think about jobs. “People need jobs.” And then they point back to education, claiming that an educated workforce is essential for people to find jobs. Invest more resources in education first so that more people are employable.
On the surface, it makes sense. But the problem in rural developing world communities is that the only way to find employment is to move to urban centers. Unfortunately, finding a job in the city is more of a myth than a reality, so the cycle continues.
That’s why we see more success when we help create employers, not employees.
Morrine lives in a rural Kenyan community of about 3,500 people. Average income is less than $2/day per household. In 2017, Morrine graduated from 410 Bridge’s Business Start-up Training (BST). She was in a class with 25 people who had a propensity for entrepreneurship. At the time, she sold chips (french fries) at the back of a trading center. She had one small fryer and was struggling to make $10 a month.
During the training, she learned basic business skills that taught her how to sustain and grow her struggling micro-business. By continually identifying new opportunities, Morrine transformed her business to a ‘ultra-modern’ restaurant serving different types of food. Her initial investment was $35.
Morrine hired 2-3 of her neighbors to work in her restaurant as she launched her second business - a salon & cosmetics shop.
Today, Morrine employs eight of her neighbors. If you do the math… Morrine’s initial investment of $35 now generates over $1,000 of increased household income for nine families. That’s 2x more than the average household income and we’re only 24 months in.
Morrine affords her children’s school fees and actually sponsors another child in her community to attend school. And just so you know… According to the Global Poverty Project, women reinvest up to 90 percent of their incomes back into their families and communities (compared to just 30-40 percent by men).
It’s important to note that Morrine started her business with her own capital. The 410 Bridge trained her on how to run a profitable business for about $225, but she was required to start her business with her own seed money. No hand-outs. No micro-loans. No subsidies.
The best news is that there are dozens of people like Morrine in her community. …and hundreds more in other 410 Bridge communities. People with potential stories of true transformation - economically, socially and spiritually.
Francis in Kiu… Wholesaler / distributor. Initial investment - $10. He employees two (2) people, generating $400 of additional household income every month.
Chris in Kahuria - Cinema and billiards. Initial investment - $5 and a small TV. He employees four (4) people, generating over $500 of additional household income. [Side note: I met Chris last week. He’s 24 years old and was orphaned as a teenager. He told me, “Before the BST training, I was a nobody. I had nothing and was a nobody. But today I am a somebody! I even have a wife. I own one acre of land that I farm and I’m working on getting my second cow.”]
Here’s my point… We’re redefining the war on poverty. What it means. How to win it. And the measurable impact on the ground. Part of that redefinition means we need to invest in creating employers, not employees. Simply educating the next generation isn’t sufficient.
The people we serve are capable, industrious and creative. They are the solution to their material poverty issue, not a set of problems to be solved.
Hundreds of potential employers are waiting to be trained. We just launched a new sponsorship program that allows you to sponsor two entrepreneurs every year for $39/month. To learn more how you can help, click the button below:
Check out my previous blog for some context… This is part two.
As the HUD Secretary, the context of Carson’s position focused on government’s role in domestic poverty. He said that he believes that government can provide a "helping hand" to people looking to climb out of poverty. But he warned against programs that are "sustaining them in a position of poverty. That’s not helpful", he claims.
I agree, of course. That’s probably not a surprise to anyone who’s spent more than ten minutes talking to me about 410’s development model. The government should help. Safety nets are needed, helpful, and a good thing. But it shouldn’t create programs that keep people from thriving on their own. It shouldn’t create systems that promote passivity and disempower people.
But that got me thinking…
Shouldn’t non-profits be held to the same standard? Shouldn’t non-profits, especially faith-based organizations, resist programs and activities that perpetuate poverty?
Here are a couple experiences I’ve had to illustrate the point.
I was invited to meet with a faith-based organization who, allegedly, wanted to change their approach to helping the poor. This wasn’t entirely accurate. Nonetheless, I was told that they wanted to learn more about the 410 Bridge community development model and I was more than willing to share what we do. They’d been working in the same area of the same country for over 30 years.
I met with one of their senior guys (let’s call him Frank) and representatives from a partner church. We chatted for a while and I learned a little more about their organization. They maintain an in-country operations center that US teams visit regularly. The operations center is the hub of their effort to help the people in the area.
Frank was especially excited to talk about the impact their organization was having on US short-term teams. He said, “Kurt, we both know that the transformation that happens on US teams is amazing. But left to their own devices, US teams will just mess it up. I’m sure you’d agree that we have to control what teams do and when they do it.”
At that point, one of the church reps chimed in. “Yeah, but you never allow us to build relationships with the people. We’re always in the compound. We never get to interact with the community.”
I asked Frank to explain what teams do when they visit.
“The first morning, teams sort donated clothing and shoes. In the afternoon, people from the community come to our compound and the teams distribute the clothes & shoes. The second day, the teams create nutritional meal packets from food we ship in from the US. In the afternoon, people come to the compound to receive the meals. The third day, the teams distribute baby formula…”
I stopped him there and asked if anyone could simply come to their facility and receive clothes, shoes, or food. Frank laughed and said, “Of course not. We work through the local church. If people need something, they go to their local church. The church notifies us, and our staff gives the person or family a ticket that they can exchange for an item of clothing, shoes, or a meal. They come to the compound with their ticket, give it to a team member and receive what they need. We do the same thing with baby formula, by the way…”
At that point, I interrupted and asked if I could ask a clarifying question. Before I did, I tried to soften the blow by confessing that I’m known for being a direct guy. I explained that people usually say something like, “That’s OK, Kurt. Feel free to be direct.” Until I am.
I asked Frank the following question…. “You talk about the transformation that occurs within US teams because of their visit. It seems that this transformation comes at the expense of the people you serve. At what point does your organization recognize that the cost to the people you serve outweighs the benefit of the transformation to the US team members?”
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“I mean that transformation comes at a cost to the people your organization serves. When is that cost too great to justify the impact on the team?”
Frank missed my point. He was quick to point out that the clothing, meals, etc. didn’t cost the people anything. Everything was free.
“I understand,” I said. “But this supposed ‘transformation’ comes at the expense of the poor. You’re doing more to perpetuate the problem than solve it. And, equally as bad, you’re illustrating a broken and unhealthy model to the US teams. Your visitors think that this is an effective way to address poverty and it perpetuates their broken perspective.”
The point is this… I’m guessing that Frank’s organization has read all the books – When Helping Hurts, Toxic Charity, etc. – and would probably say that they agree. They quote principals like involving local leaders, working through the local church, not pushing our ideas on the people we serve, etc. But yet, in practice those principals go by the wayside. Why is that?
Another quick example…
I’m on a large WhatsApp group of 150+ relief & development folks working in Haiti. The purpose of the group is to share critical safety and security communications in light of the civil unrest that Haiti experienced in recent months. The group is helpful and a good thing.
Because of the unrest, the State Department raised its travel advisory in January to Level-4 (Do Not Travel). As a result, many organizations, including The 410 Bridge, postponed or cancelled short-term teams. As conditions normalized and people began to travel again, some of the WhatsApp messages turned from safety & security to, well… something else.
Several members of the group started inquiring about how to get ‘stuff’ into Haiti without it being detected by customs and/or subject to import duty or confiscation. From what I could tell, it was a variety of ‘stuff’ from electronics, to clothes, to toothbrushes. Trunks and suitcases full of ‘stuff’. And the advice came quickly. All sorts of recommendations used by other orgs to get ‘stuff’ into Haiti undetected or without risk of confiscation or import duty.
Thankfully, one member of the group had the courage to challenge an organization looking to ‘smuggle’ (sarcasm) some toothbrushes into the country. He countered that they consider purchasing the toothbrushes in-country since there were plenty of people selling toothbrushes as part of their businesses. The response was fascinating… Essentially, the well-intentioned toothbrush smuggler said that the price of toothbrushes in-country was too expensive and therefore it was bad stewardship of the donor’s dollars to buy them locally.
And herein lies the problem. Dozens (maybe hundreds) of toothbrushes were ‘smuggled’ into Haiti, making it impossible for the businesses selling toothbrushes to do so, and the issue becomes stewardship; as if their actions were noble in some way. The same holds true for all the ‘stuff’ dumped in-country thinking that it’s actually helping. The majority of it does more to undermine an already struggling economy than actually help solve the poverty problem. A business owner can’t compete with free.
Like so many people and organizations looking to address poverty, the two I described above see it through the lens of materiality. When you define poverty as a material problem, material ‘stuff’ becomes the solution.
To me, the question is “when are we going to stop?” When will the people claiming to care about the poor – especially the faith-based community – stop stripping them of their dignity?
When are we finally going to move from simply agreeing that good intentions are not good enough, to a place where our actions actually reflect our Christian worldview?
I’ll tell you when… and I can only speak to the faith-based community here. When we begin to think differently about our perspectives of the people we serve. We’ll stop when we start seeing the poor as the solution, not a set of problems to be fixed. We’ll stop when we, once and for all, separate what we give and how we give it from our desire to feel good about ourselves.
It appears to me that the approach of many (too many) faith-based Christian organizations resembles more of a secular approach to poverty than a Christian worldview approach.
The people we serve have been wonderfully made by their Creator. Let’s help them restore their dignity, not disempower them by doing for them what they have the capacity to do for themselves.
Last year the Washington Post published an article about a statement Ben Carson made during a SiriusXM radio interview with Armstrong Williams. In the interview, Carson said that he thought poverty, to a “large extent”, was a “state of mind.” He went on to explain his position, but as you might imagine, he took a fair bit of grief, in large part, from folks who don’t agree with his politics. Like most issues these days, we can’t seem to take a position on a topic without someone being offended. Mr. Carson’s comments were no exception.
Which got me thinking….
As I waded through the responses to Carson’s comments – ignoring the visceral, hate-filled nonsense – the reasoned arguments against his position were, not surprisingly, from the secular perspective. Secular being defined as physical only. No God. We’re all just evolved animals. Truth is relative. And so on…
The notion that poverty is purely physical/material leaves me scratching my head. Outside the context of a catastrophic event (natural disasters, war, etc.), the reality is that poverty doesn’t just happen. I’ve come to see firsthand that it’s rooted in how people view themselves. How they view their relationships with each other, the environment, and most importantly, what they think about when they think about God. It flows from their assumptions on how the world works (or should work) and the choices they make based on those assumptions. It’s about worldview.
I’m learning that those who see poverty through a secular lens – purely physical, disregarding the spiritual – invariably look for someone or something to blame. Blame the poor for their poverty. Or, more commonly, blame the non-poor. The injustices of colonialism. Overpopulation. The lack of resources, infrastructure, or political systems. They’ll call for the redistribution of wealth, or preach about “fairness.”
Spoiler alert: Fairness is a myth. Andy Stanley says it best, “Fairness ended at the Garden.”
In his book Discipling Nations, Darrow Miller said it this way. “A worldview does more to influence people’s flourishing – their prosperity or poverty – than does their physical environment or other circumstances.”
And oh, by the way… It feels a little hypocritical of those on the secular side to dismiss the role worldview plays in the fight against poverty. To them, a non-secular worldview is irrelevant, after all, because life is rooted in the physical. There is no God. There is no spiritual element to consider. Truth is relative. Humans are evolved animals, that’s all. We live. We die. That’s it. We’re all just cogs in Nature’s machine, right?
Yet, their secular position is also rooted in a worldview. We all have one. It’s unavoidable. The choices they make are based on the their assumptions of how the world works. Their choices drive their behavior. In essence, their secular worldview becomes their religion.
But none of this is terribly new. Folks way smarter than me have written about this stuff for years. “Discipling Nations” was first published 20+ years ago. More recent works like When Helping Hurts (Corbett & Fikkert) and Toxic Charity (Lupton) all talk about the dangers of viewing poverty through the material lens. Volumes have been written. Almost everyone I meet that works with the poor has read them. There’s plenty of data out there to support it. We even point to the trillions of dollars spent to eradicate poverty, yet we don’t really talk about the link between poverty and worldview.
Why is that?
I have my thoughts, of course, and perhaps someday I’ll figure out how to share them without offending everyone. But for now, my focus is on how to effectively help the poor shift their worldview and thrive. To help them know that God loves them, that He has a purpose for their life, and they have responsibilities. To help them see the fruit of being a godly parent, spouse, teacher, business owner, and leader. To help them see that an abundant life is definitely possible. To help communities be compassionate, full of dignity, purpose, and freedom to thrive without being dependent on outsiders.
If you’re familiar with The 410 Bridge and our work with the global poor, you know that we’ve never defined poverty as a material problem. We see it as a worldview problem. Since the beginning, we’ve held fast to the idea that if we were really (I mean, no foolin’) going to help communities break the cycle of poverty, we needed to look beyond their physical challenges and help change their perspectives.
That, in essence, is what Carson is saying. What he labels as their ‘state of mind’ is what we label worldview or perspective.
Check back for Part Two as I explore another angle of Mr. Carson’s comments. You can read the full WaPo article here… https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/05/24/ben-carson-calls-poverty-a-state-of-mind-during-interview/?noredirect=on
As The 410 Bridge approaches its 14th year, I’ve lost count of how many trips to Kenya I’ve made. But this week was special…
I had the privilege of joining a team of five marketplace guys from North Point Community Church, who’ve spent the last 12 months in a pilot program called Frontier. Frontier is all about integrating faith and work. Doug Hurley (NPCC pastor) leads the ReWORK ministry and piloted Frontier. Our 9-day trip was the capstone of their year-long commitment.
Our week together was all about the marketplace. We visited one of 410 Bridge’s largest communities – Kiu (pronounced, “Q”). We asked graduates of 410’s Business Start-up Training (BST) if they’d be willing to spend a couple days with a US business person as we worked in their businesses. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the community leaders selected several businesses for the guys to visit.
The idea was to have each team member spend a couple days in the life of a Kiu business owner. One team member per business. They’d spend the entire day doing whatever the business owner did. And “whatever” means whatever… Serving customers, delivering goods, stocking shelves, breaking down inventory, preparing food, etc. Whatever…
The objective for Day #1 was to learn about the business and to learn about each other. The tricky part was that the US team wasn’t allowed to give advice the first day; even if they were asked. As you might imagine, not giving advice can be a difficult thing for an American. We have this love affair with efficiency. We drive toward increased productivity and growth. We see a gap and we want to immediately fill it. We have an idea on how to ‘do it better’ and we almost can’t help but immediately share our opinion. There’s nothing wrong with any of that and it’s all well-intentioned, but the rule was ‘no advice.’ Just work together. Learn. Listen. Talk. Share. That’s it…
The guys were blown away. What they learned was that each of their hosts started their business with their own capital. The largest investment was $100. The smallest was $1 (four cabbages). It’s hard for us to imagine starting a business with just a buck, but they did. And today…? Today they’re earning hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars each month. Of the businesses we visited, the least profitable business is earning 10 times what they made prior to the training. In a couple cases, multiple businesses have been started. They’re now paying school fees for their children to attend secondary school and college. One business owner even sponsors two other children in Kiu to attend school. They’re employing their neighbors. They’re driving the economy in Kiu and no longer look to outsiders to support them. They have choices. They have dignity, purpose and freedom.
The guys also saw the integration of faith in the marketplace. It was everywhere. From the names of the businesses – Hope Enterprises and The Joy Shop – to the way they interacted with their customers. Their gratitude to God for the training and for their businesses was evident, and in everything. For them, it was an answer to prayer.
As I talked to the guys at the end of the week, they spoke of seeing the long-term effectiveness of The 410 Bridge model. They saw firsthand that the people of Kiu are not a set of problems to be fixed. They are the solution. Simply addressing their physical problems – water, education, health and economic development – won’t solve their poverty problem. That’s why 410 doesn’t define poverty as a material problem, we believe it’s an issue of worldview.
We also spoke about how the traditional methods of engaging the global poor are broken. Doing for people, instead of with people… Giving away used clothes, used shoes, and toothbrushes. Doing what we think they need, when we think they need it; after all, it’s our money and our idea so it should be our way, right? All of that does more to strip them of their dignity and disempower them, than provide an opportunity for lasting life change.
I recently heard Tim Elmore (Habitudes) talk about this is the context of raising kids, but his point conveys to 410’s work as well. He said, “When people feel their effort is hopeless, they begin to feel helpless. But when people see even the smallest progress, they’ll exert more effort.” Our team of marketplace professionals saw that in living color this week.
The 410 Bridge’s BST training has resulted in over 2,500+ new businesses in Kenya. That number is increasing every year and we’re looking for marketplace pro’s in the US to spend a week in the life of business owners in 410 communities. If that’s you, and you want to use your gifs to serve others, send us a note at email@example.com.
Special thanks to my friend Doug Hurley at North Point Community Church for leading well. Thanks for allowing me to join you and your team!
I read a book about 20 years ago called Finishing Strong by Steve Farrar. I don't remember the exact statistic, but it made the case that a small percentage (10%, I think) of men that work in ministry finish the last chapter of their lives without a significant moral, family, or financial failure.
The 90% that didn't finish strong, put their work ahead of their marriages and their families and paid the price. At the time, that little message scared me. If only 10% of men...and not just men in general, but men in the ministry, finished well then why should I believe the same couldn't happen to me? And I was just a regular guy-- a young husband and father trying to make it in business. I needed to be vigilant.
While I've thought about the book over the years, recent events have shown me firsthand what it means to finish strong...
On July 11th, my mother went to be with Jesus. Mom suffered from acute Parkinson's disease. She never really recovered from two knee replacement surgeries and, as a result, was relegated to a wheelchair for the past four years. The last 18 months were a slow decline that was painful to watch. Mom suffered from hallucinations. Being an extremely strong-willed woman, she hated her condition and her dependency.
Mom and Dad moved in with us almost five years ago. Dad was ready to retire and Mom's health was fading. It's been an honor and privilege to share our home with my parents this late in life. It's had its challenges, of course, but it definitely was the right thing to do.
Since living with us, Dad was Mom's primary caregiver. He catered to her every need, which most was not so glamorous. For the last several months, Mom couldn't move on her own. Dad made all the meals, fed her, rolled her over during the night, moved her to the bedside commode, moved her in and out of her wheelchair and all while doing what he could to help her maintain her dignity. On a good night, he might get 2-3 hours of continuous sleep. He was getting tired.
And let's not forget about the hallucinations... He'd dutifully feed the imaginary dog, remove the imaginary bug from the ceiling, and take the imaginary coffee cup from her hand.
All this took a toll on their relationship, as you might imagine. My parents had always modeled a fun-loving marriage for as long as I can remember. It was hard to watch their relationship struggle in the final years.
Mom was admitted to the hospital on July 5th. She had a litany of problems and within a couple days, it became clear that she would not be going back home.
Her final day this side of Heaven was tough to watch. She was completely non-responsive. She had been struggling to breathe all day. She would cycle through 30 seconds of labored breathing and then not breathe for the next 30 seconds. It was during the second 30 seconds that you'd wonder if she would ever breathe again, but then she would start again. This went on all day and all night. The doctors couldn't tell us how long she had left. A few hours? A day? Maybe two days? No one could say.
At about 9pm, Dad and I were alone with Mom in her room. Dad looked at me and said, "Kurt, I don't know what to do. What should I do?"
I asked him to clarify what he meant and he continued, "I don't want to leave, but I've been sitting in the blasted chair for the past 14 hours. I haven't eaten all day, I'm feeling weak and tired. What should I do?"
At difficult times like this, when life seems really confusing, bleak, scary and not very hopeful, I try to focus on doing the next right thing. We've all been there. Times when you can't see far enough into the future to know what's coming... just do the next right thing.
Just do the next right thing...
For Dad, the next right thing was to grab some dinner and try to get a few hours of sleep in his own bed.
For me, the next right thing was to stay with Mom. We weren't going to leave her alone. The next 3-4 hours allowed me to pray and just talk to my mom. It was a sweet time with her.
About 2:30am, Dad returned to the hospital and I went home. I was in bed for less than 30 minutes when he called to tell me she was gone. I immediately returned to the hospital to pick him up.
Now here's the powerful part.
Dad thanked the nurses, made the necessary arrangements and we started walking toward the elevators. Standing in the quiet corridor, staring at the elevator doors, he said to no one in particular, "Well... 'til death do us part."
I looked at him and said, "Yeah, Dad. I'm really sorry."
"I think we did everything right," he added.
It was as we talked that I saw the reward that comes with "finishing strong." Dad felt like he honored her, honored his marriage, and lived up to every obligation that he signed up for 58+ years ago. Dad, to the very end-- to her very last breath-- felt like he had done the right thing. Even when it was difficult, demeaning, sad, and messy, he did it. No regrets. No broken promises. Honor, Love. Commitment.
I've seen the reward that comes with finishing strong and I want that when my time comes.
Way to go, Dad.
I’m super proud of the fact that The 410 Bridge is celebrating another anniversary. 11 years…wow! The impact on both sides of the bridge has exceeded my expectations and I’m as excited as ever for the next eleven.
As I reminisce about the good, the bad, and the ugly since September ‘06, I began thinking about some of the things I wish I knew then, that I’ve come to learn now. Who knows… Maybe you’re thinking about starting a non-profit and maybe you’ll find this helpful.
So here they are… Eleven things I didn’t know 11 years ago… (candor & humor included)
1) I had no idea how difficult it would be (and still is…) for us (the West) to separate what we give, and how we give it, from our desire to feel good about ourselves.
2) The power of understanding that the poor are not problems to be solved… They are the solution.
3) How eager local, rural churches in the developing world are to unify and work together. And how difficult, seemingly impossible, it is to unify the Western church to work together.
4) How overly concerned short-term mission teams are on what they do, rather than who they are doing it with. It seems we’d prefer to do for people, then with people.
5) That we rise and fall on our definitions. I wish I knew from the beginning the importance of properly defining words like “poverty”, “development”, and “partnership.”
6) How fun it is to teach people to hypnotize a chicken! Yep, I can hypnotize chickens… In fact, I (along with 13 awesome kids from a children’s home in Kenya) claim the world’s record of the most hypnotized chickens at one time (14) – please contact me if you would like to challenge my record.
7) What happens when an entire rural village realizes that they don’t need help from outsiders to continue their journey of development. Take a look at the stories of Kwambekenya The 410 Bridge is sharing this week. They speak for themselves.
8) The power that a Biblical worldview has on a poor community’s ability to break the cycle of poverty.
9) That I’d have memorized the seat map for just about every international flight to/from East Africa, know exactly which seats were acceptable, and if unavailable, just might make me change my travel plans.
10) How we underestimate the capabilities of the poor.
11) The critical difference between sustainability and indigenous sustainability.
I’m sure the next 11 years will be full of learning experiences as God continues to allow me to serve through The 410 Bridge. It’s the best gig ever…
For the past 10 years I’ve been using a metaphor with poor communities around the world. At many of our first meetings with local leaders I’d ask them to hold one end of a rope, and I would hold the other end. I’d then use the rope to describe our relationship by attempting to push the leader forward by pushing the rope. The illustration would get lots of laughs.
The solution was obvious: in order for us to go anywhere together, the leader had to pull me. He also had to know where he was going; meaning he was a good leader with a vision. And… if I wanted to follow, then we could go a long way together.
The illustration, while simple, has been effective. Unfortunately, it’s a major blind spot in the West with how we engage the poor.
We (the West) don’t ask. Even if we do, we typically don’t listen.
We have the money and the idea, and therefore we think it should be done our way.
We know better, and they (the poor) should be grateful for our help.
But what if we paused, and instead of rushing to the solution we became learners? What if we truly saw ourselves as guests and co-laborers? What if we actually believed that the people we were trying to help were the solution, not a problem to be solved?
The answer is clear and we see it happening in over 40 communities in East Africa and Haiti. Communities mobilize without us; not waiting for us to get started. They own both their problems and the solutions. And they sustain the solutions on their own, without help from outsiders. Our role is to be a catalyst for change and to help them go further, faster. Our role is not to direct, control, or sustain.
As crazy as it sounds, this really is happening. But frankly, that’s the easy part. The hard part is on our side of the bridge. We in the West tend to be impatient. We have a love affair with efficiency. Time has authority in our world — we expect things to happen quickly and efficiently — because after all, it’s our time and money that made this happen, right?
Here’s an actual story of what this looks like. It’s just one of many.
Several years ago, a group of American doctors visited one of The 410 Bridge’s communities to work in a health clinic that the community built with many of their own resources. It was from this trip that I came to learn just how well the leaders in the community understood the rope metaphor.
The volume of patients who visited the clinic on the first day was much smaller than any of the doctors expected. So they asked the local leaders, “Why aren’t more people coming to receive medical care?”
“It may be that they cannot afford to pay,” their hosts replied.
This was an unacceptable answer, the doctors felt, and they told the leaders that they hadn’t traveled so far at such great sacrifice and expense to charge money for their medical care. They were on a mission trip and they expected to offer their services for free.
Their hosts clarified as graciously as they could that, no, they did not plan to pay the doctors, but for the clinic to survive, they had to charge a small fee to cover the resident nurse, security guard, and most importantly any medications. But the doctors refused to listen. Their church was a sizable donor to the project and they simply would not offer their assistance any other way, thinking, once again, that they really were helping. The local leaders stood firm at first, but as almost always happens, they eventually relented to the wishes of their guests, and the next day huge crowds showed up for free medical care.
The rumblings of frustration in the community reached my office within a week after the self-satisfied, but well-intended, doctors returned to their practices in the States. They left the clinic having dispensed all of the medication, and leaving the community with no way to replenish their stock or pay their staff.
During my next visit, only weeks after the doctors had departed, I attended a spirited meeting with the leaders. They asked me, “You say that this clinic is ours and we must sustain it on our own. Yet when you Americans come, you act as if it is yours.” They continued, “So, please explain … is this project ours, or is it yours?”
I told them that it was theirs and that we would make it right. I was grateful that our friends were bold enough to confront me and to challenge the Western donors.
Today, the community of Kwambekenya continues to sustain their clinic without outside resources. They’ve done the same with their water project and education and discipleship programs.
In 2015, almost eight years later, Kwambekenya “joyfully and thankfully released” us to help their neighbors because they didn’t require our assistance anymore. They now see that they have been created by God with a purpose, and he has given them the gifts and resources they need to thrive on their own. They have a vision for their future and the commitment to the journey without help from outsiders.
How great is that?!
What drives me, and our 410 Bridge staff, is to see this narrative repeated in community after community. I love to see leaders and community member when they recognize that they are, in fact, empowered and gifted by God to do more than they ever thought possible.
Thanks again for reading. I hope you enjoyed hearing about what we’ve learned through our partnership with Kwambekenya and that it inspires you to make a difference… A real difference in the world.
This story really starts in 2003. My business failed during the downturn from 9/11. I was neck-deep in personally guaranteed debt. I was working out of my home office, trying to cobble together an income. I was broke, and getting broker. That’s when I learned about a group of kids in rural Uganda whose school – constructed out of cow dung, mud, and sticks – would disintegrate every time it rained. The kids needed a permanent classroom.
I remember my quiet time that morning. I was having a conversation with God. You may know what I’m talking about. The kind of conversation that was more of a negotiation, than a real conversation.
I was explaining to God that once I got my business back on track... Paid off all the mind-numbing debt... Got my kids back in private school… And basically righted the ship, I would go over there and build those kids a brick classroom.
After I made my case, somehow it was made clear to me that I had it backward. I was to serve Him and His children first, and the rest of that stuff…? Well, it was secondary.
I’m pretty handy and building a brick building didn’t scare me. But in rural Uganda?
Fast forward… It took about 18 months to raise the money from my not-so-wealthy network. In 2005, I cashed in about a million frequent flyer miles and my family of five went to Uganda to ‘save the day’ for about 90 kids.
About three days into that trip, I was sitting with Erika (my soul mate of 26+ years) explaining that our efforts here were of no moment. We were but a tiny drop in a really big bucket. That was the first time that I started thinking about this thing called poverty. I’d heard, as most of us have, about all the aid being poured into poor countries and about the corruption that prevented that aid from reaching the people that needed it the most. I also heard about missions and mission trips trying to help. But that’s what my family was… We were our own little mission trip, and if everyone else was doing what we were doing, it was of no moment.
There had to be a better way.
Fast forward… Nine months later, Lanny Donoho and I founded The 410 Bridge on this idea that we could mobilize and unify the Body of Christ to move the needle in poor communities in East Africa.
Do the math, and you’ll see that we just celebrated our 10th anniversary. Hard to believe…
So why a blog and why start it now?
I don’t claim to be a great writer. I tell folks that God has blessed me with a limited vocabulary. I’m fairly direct and blunt. Most people say they that they want me to be direct, until I actually am. That’s when I can see them scratching their heads and saying, “Wow. That dude runs a ministry?”
Yeah, I do. And it’s awesome.
I’m passionate about helping people (especially the poor) realize that they can thrive. I’m also passionate about changing the paradigm of how the well-intentioned West is engages the poor. My hope is that this will be a space where I can share what I’m learning in a casual and straight-forward environment.
For the past few years, I’ve seen that our model of Christ-centered, community-initiated development was working. We’ve watched as entire communities in East Africa are realizing that their poverty problem isn’t defined by what they have, or don’t have. We say it this way, “We don’t define poverty as solely a material problem. It’s a worldview problem.”
And by a worldview problem, I mean… the framework or lens in which they view the world. Their perspective of the problem and how their role resolving it. Do they see their circumstances through the lens of God being angry with them or their ancestors…? Or perhaps through the lens of tribalism, clannism, or being the victim of tribal violence. To me, their worldview – changing their perspective of their role in solving their own problems is the key to breaking the cycle.
But… When will we know? I mean, when will we really know, that an entire community has broken the cycle of poverty. For The 410 Bridge, the answer to that question is when a community tells us that they don’t need our help anymore.
That’s crazy talk, isn’t it?
When has an entire community ever told a charity that they don’t want or need their help anymore?
That happened to us last year in small community of about 5,000 people in Kenya called Kwambekenya. The leaders came to us and literally said, “We thank God for a successful partnership with The 410 Bridge. We’d like to joyfully and thankfully release you to help our neighboring communities.”
Since our exit, the community is working toward their vision for the future. They are sustaining their water, health, and economic programs. Their churches are unified and the voice for the development effort. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
Kwambekenya is the first of several communities that we expect to exit within the next 2-3 years. They are the poster child of what’s possible and I felt like it was time for me to share what we’re learning.
Thanks for reading… I hope you’ll stick around.
Kurt Kandler is the founder and Executive Director of The 410 Bridge. He is passionate not only about breaking the cycle of poverty in communities where The 410 Bridge works, but but also for changing the paradigm of mission for the Western church and how it engages the poor.